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Jac Wilder VerSteeg: Dennis Hastert scandal an unwelcome reminder of Mark Foley's disgrace

Mark Foley slowly has been returning to respectability. The former congressman from Palm Beach County resigned in 2006 after the public learned he had sent sexually-charged messages to male former congressional pages.

Now, the emerging Dennis Hastert scandal is reminding Floridians of Foley’s misdeeds.

After quitting Congress, Foley stayed out of sight for a while. After undergoing treatment for alcoholism and confirming that he is gay, he started showing up in public, detailed how he was abused by a priest as a child, hosted a radio program, revealed he had prostate cancer, and even has raised money for at least one Republican candidate and worked as a lobbyist on behalf of the Washington Nationals baseball team as it sought to establish spring-training in Palm Beach County.

Foley’s rehabilitation is not surprising. Prior to his self-destruction, he was known as both a very personable guy and an effective politician while serving on the Lake Worth City Commission, in the Legislature and then in Congress.

But now the Hastert indictments puts Foley’s name back into the spotlight in an extremely negative way. “Aha,” people are saying. “Now we know why Hastert protected Foley.”

Hastert is not facing criminal charges that allege he sexually abused male students when he was a high school wrestling coach in Illinois. But that is the story behind Hastert’s legal troubles. He is accused of evading banking laws while withdrawing cash to pay off and silence one victim and also of lying to the feds about the money.

The implication is that Foley might have faced harsher punishment – he was not charged with any crimes – if Speaker Hastert and other top Republicans had not protected him. Law enforcement officials who declined to charge Foley said they were hamstrung by a lack of access to important data.

This probably will not be a catastrophic setback for Foley’s continuing comeback. But it can’t be welcomed.

There is, believe it or not, an undercurrent of sympathy for Foley and Hastert that goes something like this: These men – and many others – have had to repress their sexuality in ways that warped them emotionally. The idea that they are to be forgiven because they were gay men living in judgmental times is hard to accept. In both cases, these seem to be misdeeds of power. Foley was in a position of power relative to the youths who had served as congressional pages, and Hastert was in a position of power over students at his school.

There is at least one scenario in which the Hastert case can be seen as a tale of mitigation. If he is genuinely contrite and genuinely wished to compensate his victim for actual damage, you can argue there’s nothing wrong with his plans to pay the victim millions of dollars while keeping the misdeeds secret to protect the victim’s privacy.

But, based on the little known so far, it will be difficult to turn this into much more than a tale of shame, cover-up and blackmail. That doesn’t reflect directly on Foley, but the indirect effect is  bad for him.

Jac Wilder VerSteeg is editor of Context Florida. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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